Processor is a digest for what’s happening in the world of consumer technology, with incisive analysis (or maybe just jokes) from Dieter Bohn. Sign up for the newsletter here and check out the Processor video series on YouTube.
Over the weekend, the US Customs and Border patrol gleefully praised itself for seizing counterfeit AirPods. Only they weren’t really knock offs, they were the new OnePlus Buds. Which, yes, kind of look like knock-off AirPods. But they’re also a real product from a real company that really does make things (though if you want to make the case that OnePlus is just Pontiac to Oppo’s Chevy, I’d hear you out). Chuckles were had by all.
Except the CBP didn’t laugh. The CBP doubled down and said that no, it didn’t make a mistake and the OnePlus Buds did count as counterfeit and the CPB does, in fact, have the legal authority to seize them. It smells of retconning, but it might also nevertheless be true that the CPB can do that (seize the buds, I mean. It’s probably free to retcon too, in today’s America).
After the titanic news of Oracle and TikTok and Nividia and Arm, the OnePlus Buds saga was the small escape I needed until I realized that it, too, is a synecdoche for the globalized conflict between the US, China, and the weird state of IP law. Ah well.
We’ll catch you after Apple’s keynote today, which is just one of several big tech events happening this week. I hope you can join us for a watch-along in our liveblog.
┏ Google to launch Pixel 5, new Chromecast, and smart speaker on September 30th. Surprise! Google’s event won’t have many surprises. It has already teased the Pixel 5, Pixel 4A 5G, and the upcoming Nest Speaker that looks vague pillow-shaped. It hasn’t spoken up much about Chromecast, but we know that too: it’s going to switch over to Android TV and is code-named “Sabrina.”
┏ The LG Wing’s twisting screen offers a new spin on the dual-screen smartphone. I … I kind of love this. I mean it’s ridiculous and the chances that there will be good software support for the second-screen experience are minimal. I could go on and on about why this is silly.
But also it’s silly! Phones can be a little wacky! I mean, not only does this have a second screen that the first screen rotates away to reveal, it has brought back the pop-up selfie camera. LG’s product engineers sat in a room and asked how many moving parts it could pack into a smartphone and the answer was not a number but simply “yes.”
┏ LG also teased a vertical sliding version of a phone, which: yes again. Go off, LG, be wacky.
┏ AMD reveals its Radeon RX 6000 GPU design on Twitter — and in Fortnite.
┏ Apple’s iPhone 12 lineup won’t have high-refresh 120Hz displays, says analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. I can already foresee the year of shit-talking this will cause, so let me just say this. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is disappointing. I have long said that any phone that costs a thousand bucks or more should have a high refresh-rate display and the iPhone lacking one is a miss. It’s not the most important spec on a phone, but it does make an appreciable difference.
┏ Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 leaks in full via official promo videos.
┏ Anchor says it’s cracking down on stolen podcasts. Ashley Carman with the inside story on how Anchor is trying to fix a problem it really should have addressed earlier.
The copycats, Mignano says, found a workaround in Anchor’s detection system. “This is definitely a new type of attack for Anchor,” he says. The people who uploaded these copycat shows downloaded the audio from another source, manually reuploaded it to Anchor, and filled in the metadata, essentially making it appear to be a new podcast.
┏ Zipline and Walmart to launch drone deliveries of health and wellness products. Kim Lyons:
The program is for on-demand deliveries of health and wellness products and will begin in a trial early next year near Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Zipline’s launch and release system allows for on-demand delivery in less than an hour, and operating from a Walmart store, can service a 50-mile radius.
┏ Verizon acquires Tracfone in a deal worth more than $6 billion.
┏ The Xbox Series S plays Xbox One S versions of Xbox One games. So to review: the Xbox Series S can play enhanced versions of Xbox One and Xbox 360 games but they’re the Xbox One S versions, not the Xbox One X versions, even though the Xbox Series S is newer and in some ways more powerful than the Xbox One X, which means if you want the best Xbox One X game experience you need the Xbox Series X. Xbox.
I am having a bunch of fun cracking jokes about there being too many Xbox details to keep track of. But the truth is that I am very interested to see if Microsoft’s Game Pass Ultimate focus works. The whole idea is that you shouldn’t have to worry too much about what Xbox you have when you want to play a game, it will just play Xbox games. You just have to worry when you decide which Xbox you want to buy next.
In an earlier newsletter I grumbled about hiding the true cost of the consoles behind monthly payments — I’ll always grumble about that sort of thing. But so long as Microsoft is up front about the total costs, the monthly installments seem like a pretty good idea. I might even spring for one myself.
┏ Xbox Series X and S: everything you need to know about the next-gen of Xbox. This new generation of consoles is much more complicated than “better graphics, better games.” Jon Porter has written the comprehensive guide on the upcoming Xboxes:
Microsoft’s new consoles give you a lot more freedom with how you play its new games, but depending on where you choose to play them, you won’t get exactly the same experience. The Xbox Series X is a much more powerful machine than the Series S or the current Xbox One, for example, which will have a big impact on performance.
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┏ Discovery of noxious gas on Venus could be a sign of life. Read this important story (and watch the video) by Loren Grush on an incredibly intriguing discovery:
finding even a small amount of phosphine on Venus is enticing because of how the gas is made here on Earth. Either it is manufactured artificially by humans — into products like fumigants or biological weapons — or it is a natural byproduct of life. Phosphine can be found in swamps and marshlands, where it’s thought to be produced by microbes. It can also be found in the guts of animals or in the poop they leave behind. Above all, it’s a gas that is almost exclusively associated with life on Earth, raising the possibility that it could be a sign of microbes floating in the Venusian clouds
┏ Oracle’s TikTok deal accomplishes nothing. Russell Brandom nails it. This is theater. All that sound and fury, signifying nothing.
┏ Google announced one of the biggest green pledges from tech yet. Justine Calma also notes that Microsoft has set itself a slightly more aggressive goal than Google has. Still: good.
Google has been carbon neutral each year since 2007, which means that it offsets the emissions it generates from burning fossil fuels by investing in renewable energy projects or other initiatives that draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into storage. But relying on offsets doesn’t actually wean the company off fossil fuels. Google released 4.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2018 alone, roughly the amount that more than 1 million passenger vehicles might put out in a year.
┏ Nvidia’s $40 billion Arm acquisition is about bringing AI down from the cloud. You can always trust James Vincent to come up with a Promethean metaphor:
The big idea is that AI, like some ancient god, is finally stepping down from the clouds to walk among the people. Machine learning algorithms used to rely on data centers for computation, with AI tools and applications sending information over the internet to these remote servers for processing. But while heavy-grade chips are still necessary for research and cutting-edge applications, many machine learning tools are now lightweight enough to run on-device without connecting to the internet. The benefits of this are straightforward: you get faster processing, greater security, and reduced power consumption.
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Twitter is expanding voice tweets on iOS and introducing trans
When Twitter introduced voice tweets earlier this summer as a way to send more personalized messages, it caught a lot of flack for not including accessibility features. Now, the company said it will add transcriptions for voice tweets as part of an initiative to promote accessibility within its products. It’s also expanding the voice tweet feature, which is still only available on iOS, effective immediately.
We’re rolling out voice Tweets to more of you on iOS so we can keep learning about how people use audio.
Since introducing the feature in June, we’ve taken your feedback seriously and are working to have transcription available to make voice Tweets more accessible. (1/2)
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) September 29, 2020
After voice tweets arrived in a testing phase, critics pointed out that it should have had captions from the get-go as required by Federal law. Twitter then surprisingly admitted that it didn’t have a dedicated accessibility team, but instead relied on employees to donate additional time to work on those features. Since then, the company has launched two separate teams dedicated to accessibility, including one for its products.
Amazon starts offering virtual classes and sightseeing tours via new Explore platform
Amazon has launched Explore, a new platform which it promises will let you “explore anything from lessons to landmarks.” It works via a video stream, with tour guides, instructors, and personal shoppers providing one-on-one sessions. Amazon says the video is one-way, meaning only the host is on camera during the virtual experience, but the audio is two-way so you can ask questions and make requests.
The Explore page provides an idea of the range of experiences on offer. These include relatively cheap sessions like a $10, 40-minute virtual shopping experience in Ridgeland, USA, to a 45-minute virtual tour of a mansion in Lima, Peru for $70, or a $129 bagel cooking class. In some cases Amazon lists ingredients and supplies to buy before a session, but it says that these are optional if you just want to watch along from home. TechCrunch reports there are a total of 86 experiences across 16 countries.
Amazon is just the latest company to start offering virtual events this year, as people have had to cut down on trips and other in-person activities. Earlier this year, Airbnb launched its own virtual travel experiences, and fitness company ClassPass has shifted to offering online classes.
Apple was initially criticized for taking a 30 percent cut of these virtual purchases, The New York Times reports, but last week said it would temporarily stop taking its cut on virtual purchases from Airbnb, ClassPass, and Facebook’s online events feature. Amazon’s Explore product pages note that customers are able to browse and purchase experiences on mobile phones and tablets, though it’s unclear whether these will be subject to Apple’s 30 percent commission.
According to Amazon, hosts come from a range of established tour guide companies including Intrepid Urban Adventures, Bamba, and Essence of Berlin. TechCrunch notes that hosts are in charge of the prices of their sessions, but says that Amazon declined to comment on the revenue split. If you take a virtual shopping experience, any purchases are handled via Amazon’s payment system.
According to TechCrunch, Amazon Explore is currently only available on an invite-only basis to customers in the US. You book by choosing an experience, and then picking a date and time for a session, and these can be cancelled or rescheduled with up to 24 hours’ notice. Although Amazon says you can browse and book experiences on mobile, you’ll need to switch to a laptop or desktop computer for the session itself.
Ford makes the 2021 Mustang Mach-E a little cheaper
Ford is hoping to take the edge off some of the sticker shock when you buy a new Mustang Mach-E. Autoblog is reporting on a leaked memo, published on the Mach-E Forum, that purports to have been sent to Ford dealerships in the US. The instructions from HQ say that the electric crossover’s price needs to drop from between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on the model.
The entry-level Select and First Edition models both get $1,000 shorn from their price, while the CA Route 1 gets $2,000 knocked off. If you’re opting for the Premium versions, either in all-wheel or rear-wheel drive, then you’ll get $3,000 off the sticker price, before incentives and extras and all that yadda.
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